Andy Hamilton – Pianos, Toys, Music and Noise: Conversations with Steve Beresford
(Bloomsbury Academic. 228pp. Book review by Tony Dudley-Evans)
This book presents a series of conversations between author Andy Hamilton and improvising musician Steve Beresford. It follows the pattern established in Hamilton’s 2007 book with Lee Konitz, Conversations on the Improviser’s Art. The conversations are lightly edited and initiated either with a brief tribute or comment from a fellow musician, or the outline of a topic relevant to Beresford’s musical career. There is also an entertaining foreword from comedian Stewart Lee.
In all this, Steve comes across as a very serious musician, but also one who is capable of humour and of not taking himself too seriously, and as a musician of great flexibility, openness and variety. Two quotes from musicians capture something of Steve as a musician and as a conversationalist.
Elaine Mitchener says: “… playing with him is like a musical Keystone Kops – constantly changing, we enjoy keeping each other on our toes, throwing a spanner in the works. He’s very supportive, and has an excellent ear.”
Leila Adu-Gilmore: “I was first struck by Steve’s singular ability to name-drop, and tell a story about everyone on the global experimental scene. He’s inspiring, funny and fun.”
The conversations cover a wide range of topics and include a varied set of comments from musicians about Steve, and a similarly varied number of comments made by Steve about music, musicians and the arts.
What emerges from the book is the variety of very different settings in which he has performed, from the mix of pop, electronics and improv in The Alterations band, and the post-punk of The Slits, through to his role today as a key member of the community of improvising musicians and experimental artists, collaborating with artists such as Christian Marclay, Stewart Lee and Tania Chen in John Cage’s Indeterminacy piece, plus the whole range of UK, European and American improvisers of all generations.
Another feature is his great sense of humour. He doesn’t just enjoy using it in his music, in the past it has sometimes been known to annoy visiting American musicians.
Steve Beresford does not regard himself as a jazz musician, and believes that he does not have the technical ability to play jazz. He does, however, enjoy listening to jazz, and, indeed, regards himself as a jazz fan who would choose mostly jazz records if he were asked to be on Desert Island Discs.
As a member of both the jazz and improvised music communities, he is a great supporter of live music, attends a huge number of gigs, and is an active encourager of other musicians. He mentions that Liam Noble and Elliot Galvin are two pianists that he particularly admires, and he also mentions his high regard for saxophonists Rachel Musson and Julie Kjaer. He tends, incidentally, not to be critical of other musicians, so this book misses out on the occasional revealing or barbed critique that is a feature of Hamilton’s Konitz book.
The conversations also touch on Steve’s teaching at Westminster University, his use of toy pianos, other toys and electronics and the role of the audience at improvised gigs. There is also a list of Steve’s seven top tips for improvisers.
David Toop makes an interesting and important point, commenting that, having listened to and worked with Steve for over 45 years, he regards the changes in Steve’s music as dramatic and that he has grown into a pianist of great beauty. Toop also comments that the lack of attention paid to improvised music in music journalism and academic research has meant that Steve’s growth as a musician has not been recognised. Hamilton goes a long way to remedy this in this important book.
This book is extremely expensive in the way of academic books meant for libraries (£81 for the hardback, £64.80 for a watermarked PDF at the time of writing – link below), but we are promised a cheaper paperback version in due course.
Categories: Book review